Santigold "Master of My Make-Believe"


Frontwoman Santi White has taken on the face of Santigold for Master of My Make-Believe, as depicted in the album's artwork, which finds her portraying all four characters (even the mustached man that sits front and center). John Hill continues to co-write, but with White gaining pop star status, he takes the back seat, as they enlist the help of A-list producers Diplo, Switch, Boyz Noise, Buraka Som Sistema, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, Ricky Blaze, and Q-Tip. Multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin (Beck, Flaming Lips) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs also make a huge impact on the sound of the record, with Karen O contributing vocals on the leadoff "Go!" and Nick Zinner scattering delicious guitar texture across the tracks.

When not dabbling in reggae (like on the Beastie Boys album cameo "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win"), White -- whose favourite band is appropriately the Smiths -- continues to be masterful at appropriating sparkling '80s arrangements, as seen in "The Keepers," (featured here), a slick song that swipes a melody line from "Little Red Corvette" and incorporates a theme once explored by Talking Heads ("While we sleep, our house is burning down").

While that's no guarantee that the sophomore outing will be as huge a hit as Santigold's breakout, at least it's proof positive that Santi White is settling in for a long ride.

New Order "Low-Life"

New Order

Released in May 1985, Low-Life is considered to be amongst New Order's strongest work, displaying the moment in which the band completed its transformation from post-punk hold overs to dance rock pioneers. The album shows New Order's increased incorporation of synthesizers and samplers, while still preserving the rock aspects of their earlier work.

The melodica-led pop song "Love Vigilantes" was the opener, nearly identical as a standout first track to "Age of Consent" from Power, Corruption & Lies. Next was "The Perfect Kiss," (featured here), one of the first major New Order singles to appear on an album.

"This Time of Night" and "Elegia" evoked the dark, nocturnal mood of the album's title and artwork, but none could call them mopey when they pushed as hard as they did on "Sunrise." Only "Sub-Culture," tucked in at the end, has the feel of a lost opportunity; remixed for a single release, it became much better. But there was no mistaking that New Order had reached a peak, experimenting with their sound and their style, but keeping every moment wrapped in an unmistakable humanness.

Bonobo 'Black Sands'

Bonobo 'Black Sands'

Laid-back London groove maestro Simon Green (alias Bonobo) returns after a considerable absence (on the recording front, at least) with this fourth full-length helping of his masterfully mellow monkey magic.

Green's clearly been keeping his ear to the ground for a bit of rhythmic reinvigoration: the immediately striking "Kiara" reworks the hauntingly elegant string refrain that opens the album with submerged vocal splices and a halting, head-nodding left-field hip-hop beat.

Elsewhere, "We Could Forever" is a funky Afro-Latin workout riding an infectiously crisp guitar riff, and the scruffy, swing-inflected breakbeats that dominated Bonobo's earlier output crop up again on "Kong" (featured here) and "El Toro." But while the grooves here serve quite nicely (and keep things consistently varied), it's the lush layers of unmistakably live instrumentation laid on top -- most of it played by Green himself -- that make the album really soar.

For a style of electronica (chillout/downtempo) that's grown decidedly dusty over the past decade, 'Black Sands' is a welcome infusion of life and warmth.

Giorgio Moroder 'E=mc2

Giorgio Moroder 'E=mc2

Even though Moroder (who, like Kraftwerk's members, is German) didn't invent electronic dance music single-handedly, he was among the first people to recognize its possibilities. In 1979, Moroder showed us some of those possibilities on E=MC2, a programmed, entirely electronic recording he produced with Harold Faltermeyer. As the album cover states with pride "First Electronic Live-to-Digital Album".

"In My Wildest Dreams," "I Wanna Rock You," (featured here) and "What a Night" are average disco tunes -- it's the computerized digital production that made them so fresh-sounding and risk-taking for their time.

To fully appreciate how forward-thinking this album was, you have to remember that in 1979 R&B and dance-pop hadn't gone completely high-tech and were still relying on a lot of studio musicians. This is the electronic dance music that preceded the rise of techno, house, and industrial noise, and it came at a time when hip-hop was in its infancy and the rave subculture had yet to be invented.

Nice 'tache Giorgio...

Mercury Rev - The Secret Migration

Mercury Rev - The Secret Migration

I went through a period where I listened to a lot of Mercury Rev, All Is Dream and Deserter's Songs in particular. In the early days I'd get the strangest feeling that I'd heard it all before. I have no idea how it worked but it felt like I was listening to something from deep in my childhood. The more I listened the more the songs became associated with Mercury Rev.

This album didn't do that to me. This sounds like Mercury Rev from the get go. That's not a bad thing, they have a unique sound and it's a pleasure to listen to. I think this is one that with a bit of work will stay with me.

Ha! In A Funny Way just did that Beach Boys thing - that drum sound like in Bat For Lashes.

Bob Sinclar - Western Dream

Bob Sinclar - Western Dream

Love, love, love, love, love... oh please make it stop. Listening to this with the boat healed over beating through the waves at 10kts and me in the galley trying to bake bread, bad idea.

The whole thing felt a bit amateurish to me. The lyrics were really the killer though - too much ecstasy makes you think you can heal the world tih love. Any lyric that wasn't about love seemed to be thrown in for the sake of creating a rhyme - despite how non-sensical the sentence became.

Obviously Love Generation is going to stand as a classic summer anthem. Just wish I hadn't heard it in the context of the rest of the album. Had it not been for the dough all over my hands I would have torn my headphones off.

Marcel Donne - Saboteur 2

Marcel Donne - Saboteur 2

I like computer game music. In particular I like the music of the games I spent hours/days/weeks/months/years playing as a kid. Unlike most kids in NZ I had an Amstrad (CPC6128) while everyone else seemed to have Amigas and Sega systems. As a result many tunes of my childhood differ from those of others. Remember, often different themes were composed for the same game on different consoles.

I really admire the games composers of yesteryear. They had so little to work with and they managed to squeeze every bit (excuse the pun) of goodness out of it. Even as an 8 year old I recognised in this work. Just as I salute those still creating magic with little more than 8 bits I also salute those reworking the classic 8 bit tracks that have inspired the geekiest among us. Thanks to Rob Hubbard for writing this one and to Marcel for bringing it back to life.

Stars - This Charming Man

Stars - This Charming Man

Sweet sweet cover of a sweet sweet song. And you can really feel The Smiths in there when you listen to the vocals. It has this great happy little guitar loop that makes the whole thing so special. Wow, 2001! I just assumed it was a recent ditty.

'I would go out tonight but I haven't got a stitch to wear. This man said "It's gruesome that someone so handsome should care"'. mmmmm, Love it.

Kiki Bohemia

Kiki Bohemia

One of the acts I was lucky enough to stumble upon whilst in Berlin last week. She was actually playing at the place we were staying (Bar 25). Great place by the way. Fun and friendly people supplying/enjoying a great selection of cultural highlights.

I don't really have that much to go on with this - just what I heard at the gig and the scattered bits I've found around the internet. The older recordings I could find have a Portishead quality to them (I think that's actually got a lot to do with the Phillicorda Organ she uses).

Great songs. Great twisted melodies. Check out Woodfull of Love on her myspace (sorry) page.

You can grab a few mp3s from Kliklak (Berlin music blog) including a cool little cover of Nirvana's Something in the Way.

Fred Avril - That Horse Must be Starving

Fred Avril - That Horse Must be Starving

Looking back a couple of years my mind falls on a period where I can recall listening to very little else besides this album. Fred Avril was one of the great Pandora finds for me - The Date in particular. I'm not sure how much popularity Avril gained in his home country of France but his Prix Constantine award (similar to the Mercury prize) suggests to me that he wasn't entirely unknown.

In any case, this work is very special indeed. You can tell it's had a lot of time put into it. Every last little sound feels 120% considered. I almost picture the guy going insane in the studio adjusting and readjusting every last little dial. Maybe that's how he got to the point of discussing killing his girlfriend in Like Everybody Else (itself a pop masterpiece, by the way) - complete with noises of sharpening of knifes.

The sound itself is generally all about smooth, dark electronic production, but he executes the realisation in a number of different ways. Some of the tracks like Helium Life Boat are particularly ambient while others (eg French Kiss) are really dancey.

One of my top picks of 2005.

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